Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

Bose and Bengal Revolutionaries

The British political establishment's rancorous attitude towards Bose was very different from its attitude towards other national leaders of the Congress. Declassified documents throw light on how this attitude was developed. A secret memorandum of May 1932 (C.P.148 (32)) from the then Secretary of State for India Samuel Hoare, to the British Cabinet explains the threat perceived by the British Government from Bose. The document is available courtesy the National Archives of UK.

Titled "Terrorism in Bengal," the note which was meant to apprise the British Cabinet of the connections between the Bengal Congress and the "terrorist parties" in Bengal in the context of the non-cooperation movement, details out, almost in a complaining tone about Bose's links with "terrorists" in Bengal.

Starting with a brief on activities of revolutionary parties in Bengal, such as Jugantar, Sri Sangha and Anushilan Samiti (the latter two based in Dhaka) the Memorandum describes the revolutionaries of the societies as, "murderous fanatics whose fanaticism increases after every successful outrage and is maintained by the unchecked stream of praise of assassins and other terrorists in the Congress press and platform." Bose is described as one who has no qualms about Europeans being murdered.

According to this note, the connection between Bose and the Jugantar party was the most potent in Bengal at that time:

[Jugantar] "has proved itself to be the most dangerous party in Bengal. Its record of achievement...is one which must in the future draw to it adherents in large numbers from all of Bengal. It also has the advantage over other terrorist parties of being the fighting force of Subhas Chandra Bose, who is more outspoken than any other Congress leader of Bengal in praise of terrorists and his demand for complete independence, which is the avowed object of the terrorist campaign . This advantage is great, for it opens out avenues of employment for terrorists in all institutions controlled by the Congress party and vast opportunities of recruitment."

Commenting on the strategy of the Jugantar Party, the brief noted that the party was planning for district uprisings in 1931, but was not able to achieve it due to a large number of arrests of its key members. During the early 1930s, the party wanted to scale up their operations "at a time when the country was disturbed by the lawlessness of the non-cooperation movement." Bose's move to assimilate the revolutionaries into mainstream mass movement was suspected by the British administration.

"Subhas Chandra Bose, however, is said to have stated that the terrorists should give civil disobedience a chance and resume terrorism only in civil disobedience failed. Subhas Chandra Bose is the last man to object to Europeans being murdered, and his desire to suspend terrorism during the civil disobedience movement was probably merely in order that the Congress under the garb of non-violence and the shelter of the Gandhi-Irwin pact might sir up the people and thus prepare the ground once more for the terrorists. Subhas Chandra Bose's attitude at the recent Berhampore Congress is instructive. He clearly intended to force Gandhi's hand over the Bengal Ordinances and compel him to start civil disobedience. Subhas Chandra Bose got his resolution passed largely through the support of a communist-cum-terrorist group know as the Samyaraj party. This party, the leaders of which are persons who were at one time members of some terrorist group, aims at bringing about a mass revolution in which all terrorist groups and the communists will combine...Government's attitude towards civil disobedience is now clear. Subhas Chandra Bose has not been given the opportunity to work out his schemes, and the Jugantar party will carry on with its campaign of murder and dacoity as undoubtedly it would have done anyhow, for it is beyond the control of any Congress leader."

Going back to Bose's appointment as the Chief Executive Officer of the Calcutta Corporation, the memorandum notes, "In 1924 the terrorist members of the Swarajya party supported the candidature of Mr Subhas Chandra Bose... and it is noteworthy that after his appointment to that post many jobs in the Corporation were given to terrorists." The note implicates the Swarajya party too for supporting the revolutionaries. It points out:

"...the Swarajya party could not succeed in election campaigns, whether for Council or municipal bodies, without their help. The terrorists depended on the financial support of the Swarajya party. It is thus clear that the Swarajya party and the terrorists were interdependent and were component parts of the same revolutionary machine."

It goes on to say that Bose entered an agreement with the "terrorists" that they should run the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee under his guidance. "They drew up a scheme for a Workers' League the basis of which was complete independence. This scheme was discussed at the Madras Congress of 1927, and the Bengal revolutionary group persuaded Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru to move the Independence resolution, which was, however, defeated by Mr Satyamurti's amendment." In the next Congress session at Calcutta (1928) Bose moved an amendment - to Gandhi's resolution - "to the effect that there could be no freedom as long as the British connection remained and that the goal of the Congress should be Complete Independence." Although the amendment was defeated, the report notes that "two-thirds of the Bengal delegates voted for the amendment.. and that the "Bengal revolutionaries had strived hard to get this resolution carried."

The memorandum also cites a sharp letter written by a revolutionary accused in the Chittagong Armoury case (but does not name him) to Gandhi. The letter clearly demonstrates the philosophical dichotomy between Gandhi and the revolutionary groups:

"The terms of truce have been asserted at the cost of sacrifice on our part and true to say at the cost of national prestige...The amount of blood we Indians shed, the amount of trouble we undertook to get the Government cornered have been totally neglected by the Working Committee, and the whole position and strategic gains obtained dating the fight have been blasted up at a moment..I am a member of that school of fighters who have taken the vow of liberating the motherland through violent means..We are common human beings;we are not Christs or Chaitanyas and we know that murder of oppressors only can give our motherland a bit of relief..Disobedience of law in the civil form, however forceful or virulent it may be, can never unnerve the enemy unless and until the same turns up to be criminal. Hence the widespread and indiscriminate murder of Europeans is the only panacea for the vital malady which is eating away the very vitality of our nation every day...You know full well the philosophy or doctrine we follow. Be it as it may, from the very advent of civil disobedience movement some of the revolutionaries wanted to give your movement and theories a chance, and .hence your disobedience campaign has attained the amount of success which we can now see. "You can certainly not deny the fact that in almost all the provinces the Congress programme has been worked out by the men most of whom have got violence as their policy in heart, and specially in Bengal, where the disobedience campaign has achieved the highest amount of success, ninety per cent of the Congress workers are open revolutionaries to whom no doubt all the credit of the success goes..Your saintly conscience and unprejudiced mind did not care to utter a single word in favour of those who cared not to spare even the last drop of their blood for the deliverance of their so dear motherland...But if the matter was to have been decided in this way without an atom of gain for us, why then have you cried halt to the working of our own programme? Our lives are hanging on threads...thousands of us are rotting in prisons..but to our utter surprise our cases have not even been mentioned once during the negotiations. We are to die and rot in prisons as was the case before. Why then shall we stop our own proper fight winch and which alone can bring us real freedom which no amount of civil disobedience or boycott even continued for centuries will bring? We can only stop our own fight and other violent programmes, and are also ready to work out your programme which will no doubt carry much weight, if our prisoners who hare been convicted of violent offences are at once released and all the death sentences commuted and the persons set at liberty and lastly all such trials withdrawn and the persons let off without delay. We entreat yon earnestly to see the Viceroy again and to bring pressure upon him to ratify our demands, otherwise we have our own course and you along with your Working Committee have your own course; we run together for the same goal without having any obligation or responsibility to each other."

 

- Chandrachur Ghose